Vector Lurches To Opening

Auckland, New Zealand’s Vector Arena has seen more than its share of bumps on the road to completion. Despite lawsuits, fire, structural problems, cost overruns, resignations, restructuring and myriad other problems, it is finally set to open in the next few months.

The 12,000-seat Auckland City Arena won its inaugural name sponsor in Vector, a network infrastructure manufacturer and manager, in May 2005. The multipurpose building may be configured to accommodate events ranging from basketball to opera, including rock concerts and trade shows, and can be partitioned for more intimate performances.

The arena, which also houses taverns and restaurants, sits on the Auckland waterfront near Quay Park, adjacent to downtown entertainment, transportation hubs and parking facilities.

Originally scheduled to open in 2005, Vector Arena was off to a rocky start before ground was broken. Australian company Abigroup failed to come up with its NZ$30 million contribution in 2003 to the then-estimated NZ$89 million construction cost as part of New Zealand’s first major public/private partnership, according to the New Zealand Herald.

The city council broke off talks with that firm and began negotiating with Jacobsen Venue Management, which ultimately joined the partnership.

JVM then formed Quay Park Arena Management with Worldwide Entertainment New Zealand, owned by American promoter Jack Utsick. JVM controls 75 percent of QPAM.

Richina Pacific subsidiary Mainzeal Property and Construction was signed on to build the venue, and work began June 2, 2004, after lengthy negotiations between QPAM and Auckland officials.

Even with the scheduled opening pushed to January 2006, a series of unexpected labor and material supply problems hit Mainzeal, causing it to spill copious amounts of red ink and its parent company to eventually force a restructuring.

Losses for the construction company were rumored in the New Zealand press to stand at about NZ$15 million. The problems forced a postponement of an expected January 2006 grand opening to April, then July, and then to the end of August.

It also forced the cancellation of a Coldplay concert scheduled in January, which would have been the band’s only New Zealand stop, because the venue could not be completed in time.

“There’s a whole bunch of reasons for that,” Vector Arena controller Brendan Hines told the New Zealand Herald in March. Hines told the paper Mainzeal was working on the arena’s roof, landscaping and internal fitout, and had not yet turned the keys over to QPAM to manage the building.

The next blow came in April, when Richina was forced to restructure Mainzeal, and announced the departure of Mainzeal chief exec Neil Ranford. Richard Yan, Richina’s chief executive and managing director, would move from his base in San Francisco to Auckland to serve as CEO of Richina’s land division.

On the heels of the restructuring, Yan told the Herald the arena was “categorically” the worst job Mainzeal had taken in about a decade. He blamed inadequate job specs, incomplete working drawings, chronic labor and skill shortages, and rising material prices (particularly for steel).

“The job is complicated and it’s the first time something like this has been tried in New Zealand,” he told the Herald, adding that litigation was pending against the arena’s architect, U.S.-based Crawford Architects.

The day after the interview was published, Crawford filed a $1 million suit against Mainzeal, saying it had fulfilled its obligations on the arena, and Mainzeal owed it money.

Just three days after that, a new crisis developed when structural problems with the building’s 210-ton central truss forced workers off the construction site, prompting comparisons to the ongoing fiasco at London’s Wembley Stadium.

The arched roof is designed to hold up to 54 tons of lighting and sound equipment. Engineers quickly developed a plan to correct what was termed “a traditional design” that required changes, according to the Herald, and workers returned to the venue three days later.

But that wasn’t the end of a nightmarish April for the backers of Vector Arena. Back in the States, QPAM partner Worldwide Entertainment New Zealand’s principal, Jack Utsick, was charged, with two others, by the Securities and Exchange Commission with defrauding some 3,300 investors of approximately $300 million. A receiver was appointed to oversee Utsick’s finances and the repayment of creditors.

Utsick resigned from QPAM’s board and was replaced by a company receiver. JVM exec Kevin Jacobsen told the Herald he was “shocked” at the turn of events, but protections were in place to ensure funding of arena management operations after the projected August 31st completion.

That date, by the way, held firm after a May 4th fire in the arena’s air conditioning ducts caused five people to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Acts have yet to be announced for Vector Arena’s inaugural concerts, but the collective relief that the doors are finally going to open could be celebration enough.